Ashli Watts
Peter Beard


February 18, 2022


Workforce development ranks as the most urgent challenge as employers, policymakers, and community leaders look for solutions to rebuild America’s economy following the COVID-19 pandemic, solving the talent shortage and creating opportunities to help people grow in their careers or develop new skills.

At the peak of the pandemic, national unemployment rates reached a whopping 14.9% (April 2020). The following 22 months laid out a gradual recovery with the adoption of virtual meeting platforms, the eventual release of vaccinations, and the measured lift of social distancing mandates. Today, the national unemployment rate levels out to a more reasonable 4%, yet industries across the line continue to face significant shortages in labor and talent.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions invited four witnesses to share the successes and challenges for bridging the gap between skilled workers and in-demand jobs. We had the privilege to serve as two of these witnesses to share our respective organizations’ experiences with Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM), an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, among additional contributions our teams lead to support our communities. TPM® is an effort to mobilize the business community to close the skills gap by applying lessons learned from supply chain management to move employers into the role of "end customers," projecting talent needs and aligning those with education and workforce development systems. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Houston Partnership have been long-standing partners of the Chamber Foundation and we were pleased to provide our first-hand experiences implementing the framework that champions employer leadership.

Our country’s workforce system faces multi-faceted problems that require a multi-faceted approach to remove barriers and create opportunities, particularly in the Commonwealth, where fewer adults participate in the workforce than in almost any other state in the nation. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s experience with TPM aims to build talent solutions for not one, but five of Kentucky’s key industry sectors and two signature industries, engaging almost 300 employers, and connecting more than 3,000 Kentuckians to jobs, training, or work-based learning opportunities. Through our TPM efforts—as well as programs such as our Workforce Recovery Program and Bus to Business—the Kentucky Chamber Foundation is committed to develop, expand, and strengthen our workforce. We are eager to showcase more examples like the Workforce Readiness and Reentry Program at Blackburn in which we have organized a strategy to connect qualified incarcerated individuals participating in equine training to employment opportunities once released. We look forward to having this successful program replicated to other prison facilities and industries.

In Houston, we face a dire skills gap challenge alongside a changing industry base, an increasingly diverse population, and a fundamental shift in our regional economy as we prepare for the energy transition. Greater Houston Partnership’s UpSkill Houston and Houston Back on Track initiatives have led to real-time solutions to meet the demands of our employers in our evolving workforce. Using TPM, our employer collaboratives have experienced increased enrollment in programs linked to those critical jobs identified by employers, along with higher completion rates, in addition to creating and communicating career advancement opportunities for existing workers such as our industrial construction craft professionals. Our initiatives prioritize developing baselines of existing skills and capabilities, strengthening skills-based hiring and education, ensuring effective transitions into employers’ workforces, and supporting quality, life-long learning to enhance occupational mobility and economic prosperity. When our employers lead, every stakeholder benefits.

Our organizations will continue to demonstrate the strength of employer leadership and work with the ready and the willing. Employer-led talent strategies are critical not only to our recovery from the pandemic, but for long-term prosperity for our communities, our businesses, and our neighbors.

Watch the full committee hearing here.

Stay up to speed and learn more about how TPM® could foster developmental opportunities and partnerships in your community or place of work.

Written by Ashli Watts, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Peter Beard, senior vice president for Workforce Development at the Greater Houston Partnership

About the authors

Ashli Watts

Peter Beard